Library Innovation Lab: Exploring New Ways of Engaging California’s Immigrant Communities
Since 2017, Library Innovation Lab (LIL), a nationally recognized program, has supported California’s public libraries through training, support, and resources for programming librarians. This support enables them to design and implement new public humanities projects that reach and engage underserved immigrant groups in California. Some key programmatic goals of LIL are to support and increase relevant and engaging humanities programming for immigrants who make up 25% of our state’s population, build the capacity of public libraries to deliver meaningful humanities programs and promote greater empathy and understanding among all our state’s people. As of 2023, 74 libraries have participated in the program, offering hundreds of public humanities programs and experiences reaching over 40,000 Californians.
Each year, LIL recruits a new group of public library programmers through an open call to libraries across the state. Over nine months they research, design, implement and assess a small-scale, short-term public humanities project before the year’s end. Working in a collaborative learning environment that includes group meetings as well as individualized advising, cohort participants acquire new skills and knowledge in program development and project management, build confidence, develop the capacity to work with immigrants, and exercise creativity and imagination through experimenting with new programming approaches. This process of learning and discovery is facilitated by peer mentors from previous cohorts, and supported by humanities experts, leading to new professional relationships. California Humanities provides each participating library up to $5,000 in grant funds to be used as venture capital for program research and implementation expenses.
The diverse list of projects that LIL participants have developed includes writing, documentary media, and oral history projects; interpretive exhibits; community tours and itineraries of immigrant neighborhoods; performances and presentations focused on traditional arts; and lectures, dialogues, and community conversations.
Response from immigrant community members has been enthusiastic: “This program made me feel at home”; “Now I know the library is a safe place for me and my family”; “I feel like my community is respected”; “Representation matters! Thank you for holding space for us to tell our stories”; “This is the first time I’ve come to the library but I plan to come back” are a few of the community participant comments.
“This was a wonderful opportunity to bring innovative programming to public libraries that might not have otherwise been possible. An excellent professional learning opportunity.” -2018 LIL Cohort Member